An Editing Binge: Burp
As luck would have it, I've recently been inundated with manuscripts to critique. In the space of just a few weeks, I've read about southern sharecroppers, speaking mammals called "Aminals," coke dealers, cult survivors, summer camp mischief, and a make-believe place called "Persiran." It's been a bit of an editing binge. Burp.
Here are some conclusions I've drawn:
TOP FALSE ASSUMPTIONS EDITING CLIENTS MAKE
1. An editor will "fix" your manuscript. (An editor can help you fix it.)
2. He/she will introduce you to his or her agent. (Editors are incredibly selective about recommending clients to their agents, because their own reputation hangs on the line every time they do so.)
3. Critiquing should only take a few hours, max. (It takes two to three times as long as you think it should to give constructive and thoughtful feedback.)
4. It's not worth paying for an editorial letter. (It's always worth it: Editorial letters are a bitch to write because they require the editor to think holistically about the project and articulate not only what isn't working, but offer up suggestions on how to fix it. Without an editorial letter you're getting a bunch of random comments, half of which you'll forget or discount.)
5. Once you address the editor's concerns, your manuscript is DONE. (This one's tough, but most manuscripts need a professional perspective, and then multiple rounds of tweeking and re-writing.)
6. It shouldn't be so darn expensive! Here's what Jane Friedman has to say about this on Writer Unboxed: Writers may sincerely seek professional help, but very few are willing to pay for it. You probably will not receive a quality review on your entire manuscript—that will actually affect your chances of publication—for less than $1,000—unless it’s line editing (copyediting, proofreading).
TOP MANUSCRIPT ERRORS
1. Telling rather than showing. Yes, this happens all the time, even though most writers know it's a no-no. There are times when telling is fine, but most of the time? SHOW.
2. Characters are not differentiated enough. Readers need to be reminded frequently of what characters look like--and I don't just mean their hair or eye color.
3. Dialogue is boring or stilted. Read your dialogue aloud. Pick your favorite book and analyze the dialogue. Then take yours and chop it up, give it subtext, make it personal.
4. The book is too long. If you can say it in fewer words, do. Everyone will thank you.
5. The themes are not clear or sustained.
6. The end is rushed. Take your time with the denouement. The reader is more interested than you think in how this all ties together. A rushed or incomplete ending can negate the entire reading experience.
TOP THINGS I LIKE ABOUT BEING AN EDITOR
1. I always learn something.
2. It's fun to help people.
3. It's even more fun when those people are grateful.
4. It helps pay the bills.
5. It keeps my brain sharp.
TOP THINGS I DON'T LIKE ABOUT BEING AN EDITOR
1. It's stressful to deliver bad news, and anything other than, OMG THIS IS FANTASTIC is usually perceived as bad news.
2. It's harder than you think to be encouraging and constructive and truthful.
3. If you're anal, obsessive and conscientious (I'm not naming any names),
I you usually take longer than my your estimated time and end up eating the cost.
4. Sometimes, writers don't listen. This is far worse than when my children don't listen to me.
5. One month, I'm binging, the next I'm subjected to the lemon/maple syrup fast.
Please, writers, keep the manuscripts coming, I'm not sated yet.
May the Force be with you,
Katrin Schumann is the author of The Forgotten Hours (Lake Union, 2019), a Washington Post bestseller; This Terrible Beauty, a novel about the collision of love, art and politics in 1950s East Germany (March, 2020); and numerous nonfiction titles. She is the program coordinator of the Key West Literary Seminar. For the past ten years she has been teaching writing, most recently at GrubStreet and in the MA prison system, through PEN New England. Before going freelance, she worked at NPR, where she won the Kogan Media Award. Katrin has been granted multiple fiction residencies. Her work has been featured on TODAY, Talk of the Nation, and in The London Times, as well as other national and international media outlets, and she has a regular column on GrubWrites. Katrin can also be found at katrinschumann.com, and on Twitter and Instagram: @katrinschumann.See other articles by Katrin Schumann